Friday, May 01, 2015

Random Chart Day: 3 Years of Finances

does not include Rebecca's billions

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Weekend Wrap-up

A live-action scene from our Deux du Mai (pronounced "doodoo may") barbeque. The dum-dums weren't just inside the pinata.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Quiz Day: Me Me Me!, Part V

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

How much you know about me? Hover your mouse over the right column to see the correct answers.

1 Which musical job have I never had?
  1. Pit musician
  2. Sheet music transcriber
  3. Trumpet teacher
  4. Student film composer
2 Of these choices, which animal do I think is the cutest?
  1. Llama
  2. Puffin
  3. Hedgehog
  4. Pug
3 Which driving practice am I least likely to do?
  1. Coasting over hills in case of speed traps
  2. Speeding up to make it through a yellow light
  3. Turning left out of a business onto a multi-lane road
  4. Slowing down before a red light in hopes of rolling through right at the green
4 Which programming language have I never used?
  1. Python
  2. Haskell
  3. Scala
  4. C++
5 What characteristic am I most likely to pick when making a new role-playing game character?
  1. Magic Spells
  2. Two-Handed Swords
  3. Stealth
  4. Healing
6 How many separate books am I reading (or re-reading) in parallel right now?
  1. 1
  2. 3
  3. 5
  4. 0
7 Which part of a jazz combo performance would I be most annoyed by?
  1. The bass solo
  2. Applauding the solos
  3. The third hour
  4. Rapid 16th notes
8 Which news/talk show host do I find least annoying?
  1. John Stewart
  2. Stephen Colbert
  3. Jimmy Fallon
  4. Nancy Grace
9 What was our name for the daily sixth grade battle recess where all of the boys threw dandelions at the girls?
  1. War of the Weeds
  2. Dandelion Disaster
  3. Death to Girls
  4. Weeds in the Wind
10 Of these choices, what was the only Boy Scout event I ever attended?
  1. Pamporee
  2. Camporee
  3. Jamboree
  4. Order of the Arrow Campfire

tagged as random | permalink | 8 comments

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Memory Day: Summer at the Spellerbergs

Thirteen years ago today on May 6, 2002, I spent my first full day living with Anna's family in Chantilly for the summer. Home for the summer from grad school and starting my third internship at FGM, I was finally tired of driving the 60 miles round trip from my parents' house in Alexandria and work in Dulles.

Based on my mob connections to this Italian family, I was able to secure a berth in their back guest room, moving in a card table to support the massive desktop (Pentium 4 2.0GHz with 768MB RAM) and CRT monitor (which I also ferried back to Alexandria on the weekends), as well as all of the MIDI accoutrements I was using to write my master's thesis. (By the end of the summer, I had written about 40 measures of music, 16 of which became the main melody, leaving the rest discarded in a folder to mine for future ideas).

Living with Anna's family was very different from the way I'd grown up. For example, people stopped by unannounced all of the time, and they thought nothing of just pulling up another chair and setting out another dinner plate. I adjusted quickly though, and was soon pulling karmic-yoga duties to pay for my upkeep like cleaning the house or ferrying Anna's little sisters to various softball games on 28, in the days when 28 had stoplights every 5 feet.

Among the other highlights I recall from this summer:

  • I started watching The Sopranos for the first time.
  • Warcraft III was released.
  • I was amazed by Netscape 7.0 Preview, which introduced Tabbed Browsing for the first time.
  • At work, I developed an automatic testing framework that took some Java code and developed JUnit test stubs for every method, along with basic get / set accessor tests. Like all good internship projects, it was promptly shelved after I left.
  • I maintained my 5:30 - 1:30 work schedule, even though work was just ten minutes away, and then spent the afternoons "writing music".
  • I worked on a personal project called Pattern Recognition and Identification through Melodic Analysis (PRIMA), which was essentially open-source software before I knew what open-source really was.

What were you doing in the summer of 2002?

tagged as memories | permalink | 3 comments

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Lilyhammer, Season 3:
This show has run out of ideas and is treading water on reimplementation of old plots. The charm is gone and characters have their characters assassinated through illogical actions to push the plot forward. It jumps the shark once Torgeir starts seeing ghosts midseason. Free on Netflix, but stop at Season Two and skip this one.

Final Grade: D

Halt and Catch Fire, Season 1:
This new show about the rise of personal computers in Texas in the 1980s was surprisingly good for being under-hyped. We enjoy watching Lee Pace in things, except for Guardians of the Galaxy where, apparently, his evil superpower was to have a deeper voice and better diction than the people around him. He's able to show his range here as a less-than-likeable protagonist (supposedly inspired by the lead in Mad Men so the audience of that show would start watching this one after Mad Men ends its run). Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: B+

Bloodline, Season 1:
This show is super slow. It's slower than the plot development in Unbreakable and slower than the slo-mo reaction shots of Jim Caviezel blinking while reciting war poetry in The Thin Red Line. If you took the glacial pace of Six Feet Under, removed all of the deep philosophical hooks about mortality, turned it into a slow-burning murder thriller, and then tried to stream it over dialup, you would get this show. It's made by the creator of Damages, whose first season I really liked, but just takes far too long to get to the point. The last three episodes are tense, exciting, and a well-coursed denouement, but you have to get through ten episodes that are equivalent to watching that stupid plastic bag blow around the screen in American Beauty. This is also one of those shows where pretentious viewers argue that the setting is one of the main characters, but you can't reuse a single helicopter view of Key West and the same three pans of a beach and make this claim. Free on Netflix, if you don't count 13 hours of your life.

Final Grade: C-

Sleep Better Iso-Cool Memory Foam Pillow:
I finally had to dispose of my childhood era pillow because it no longer provided any support (and because a cat threw up on it), and bought this replacement for under $40. It's actually a very good pillow with a good blend of sturdy and soft, although it will take a while for me to break my former habit of scrunching the pillow into my desired shape -- this is the type of pillow that you just let sit in one place and it will adjust based on how you're sleeping on it.

Final Grade: B+

tagged as reviews | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, May 08, 2015

Memory Day: Snapshots

This picture was taken 17 years ago today, on Friday, May 8, 1998. My sister had just returned from UVA with some random, long-forgotten boyfriend named Ed, and received this bare-bones Honda Civic as a graduation present.

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Monday, May 11, 2015

Weekend Wrap-up

We returned to White Oak Canyon to hike this weekend, and found that it looked much different than our last trip. We did a circuit of 8 or 9 miles, going up Cedar Run and back down White Oak Canyon, only having to deal with the crowds of DC folks seeking nature in the last couple hours.

In the evening, we returned to Hopkins Ordinary B&B where we got a giant pizza from Rudy's across the street, a growler of Saison du Printemps from the brewery in the basement, and played Gloom on the upstairs veranda.

Breakfast on Sunday was all-natural waffles with (for me) 8 slices of bacon. Rebecca did another hike at Mary's Rock, while I returned home to do laundry and feed our cats-in-triplicate, who otherwise might have resorted to cannibalism. We ate leftovers for dinner and watched a couple episodes of the fourth season of Game of Thrones, which is much less ADHD about its division of storylines than previous seasons.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

5:28 AM: Ready for work.
5:39 AM: Arriving in the (home) office.
7:03 AM: Administrative assistants.
7:16 AM: Bagel for breakfast.
10:06 AM: Reviewing slides for tomorrow's class.
12:00 PM: Lunchtime.
2:06 PM: Practicing my lectures.
4:54 PM: Exercising with The Shield.
5:43 PM: Back to Skyrim after a brief Pillars of Eternity stint.
7:00 PM: Leftover hotdogs from the barbeque for dinner.
7:17 PM: Early nappers.
8:37 PM: Watching Game of Thrones while Rebecca eats a giant salad.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Memory Day: Snapshots

The picture on the left was taken ten years ago, in May 2005, just after Anna had let a giant moth into the house. The picture on the right was taken just this morning. The changes over the past ten years are clear, like night and day:

  • Fewer apple prints, more orange hues

  • One less fat grey cat

  • One less original kitchen chair

  • Chandelier is less 1977 dining room and more 2009 Chili's

  • More stuff on the walls (.com)

  • An actual change from night to day

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Silk Road by Eileen Ormsby:
This Kindle book tells the story of the underground drug market that existed on the deep web and was shut down by the feds in 2013. The writing is dry and impartial but the material stands on its own well without needing embellishment. I found this to be a quick and easy read about a technology topic that I didn't have much foreknowledge of.

Final Grade: B

Pillars of Eternity:
This Kickstarter-backed RPG, like Divinity: Original Sin before it, aspires to be the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate. If you liked any of the Baldur's Gate or Infinity Engine games, you'll probably love this game. I, however, got bored around twelve hours into it -- a little too much party babysitting and a minimally-explained UI dulled my enthusiasm. All it really did was make me want to play Skyrim again.

Final Grade: C

Scrotal Recall, Season One:
In spite of the ridiculous name, this British comedy was surprisingly well-done, and sometimes felt like "How I Met Your Mother with an actual plotline". There are only 6 episodes, and we ended up watching them all on a single slow Sunday a few weeks back. Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: A

Fed Up:
Rebecca wanted to watch this documentary on obesity and sugar conspiracies, and it's about what you'd expect -- occasionally interesting, mostly facts you already knew, and a format that subtly increases the sensationalism of each segment. I fell asleep in the last 20 minutes, but it was late on a Friday -- almost 9:45 PM! Free on Netflix.

Final Grade: C+

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Moth Revisited

Here's a live action video of the four cats chasing a moth in 2005. This Sundance candidate is less about the action surrounding the moth, which might as well be a MacGuffin that exposes the poignant character development of Sydney, who was crazy, Booty, who was skinny, Amber, who could rotate her head 180 degrees like an exorcised cat, and Kitty, who was unimpressed. Also check out the awesome linoleum floors and apple-themed kitchen.

Happy Friday!

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Weekend Wrap-up

On Saturday, Rebecca went hiking along the Appalachian Trail at Snickers Gap (no Snickers bars were involved, contrary to the name), where the woods were overrun with snakes enjoying the warmth and banging in the trees. I stayed home to do the bi-weekly Costco run, and then worked on proposals in the afternoon.

On Sunday, Rebecca and her posse did a "Color Run" at National Harbor, where spectators throw random pastels at you as you run, as if having to run 5 kilometers on a Sunday morning wasn't punishment enough. Now there is glitter everywhere -- glitter in the rug, glitter on the cats, glitter in her hair. There's no longer need for nightlights because the carpet sparkles gently in the moonlight as you glide down the hall to the bathroom.

In the afternoon, we had gyros and subs from Joe's Pizzaria and finished the fourth season of Game of Thrones, which showed surprising improvement over the music video attention span scenes of the third season.

How was your weekend?

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Overselling Day

We received the periodic newsletter from our local Sterling representative last week, and it's pretty clear that he's been singlehandedly responsible for every newsworthy event in the world since 1921.

If you were to create a word cloud of its contents, it would just be his name in 128 point font, with a tiny swatch of prepositions and articles dwarfed around it. It's not clear that this newsletter is taxpayer-funded, but I'm hoping that it's a product of one of his shady fundraising organizations. The newsletter is even named after him, and it's probably that name recognition that's kept him popular in spite of the fact that he was stripped of all committee seats in 2013 for fundraising on government time.

The good news is that he's up for reelection this year, having procedurally survived last year's recall attempt. If he wins yet again, I'll either throw my hat in the ring in 2019, or I'll shake my head resignedly and continue living in Sterling being unaffected by his reign while silently judging the voters around me.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Memory Day: Fifteen Years Ago

On Saturday, May 20, 2000, Paige was in town, visiting me at my parents' house in Alexandria. I had just finished the first week of my first internship at FGM, and on the Friday before, I picked her up at a random dead end in Leesburg (her car could not travel more than 10 miles without exploding, so her parents pushed her out of their moving car on their way to locales further north).

As a native of the DC area, I had already become jaded with the tourist grandeur of the area. So, the sightseeing agenda for this day consisted of easy-to-reach landmarks along the Blue Line which, even then, was the blue-haired stepchild of the Metro system. We hit Old Town Alexandria in the morning, where I showed off the million dollar boathouse funded by the Alexandria Crew Boosters and nestled in the armpit of eight blocks of ghettos, and followed it up with a trip past Arlington Cemetery (because no one actually gets off there).

In DC proper, we went to the Smithsonian for the only exhibit worth visiting: the Insect Zoo at the Natural History Museum (sponsored at the time by Orkin). We also went to an exhibit about pianos at the American History Museum, which probably would have been more exciting had it been about brass instruments. After a classy late lunch at the Food Court in Pentagon City, we returned home to watch Usual Suspects and eat cereal.

I also may have tried to get her to read Janny Wurts, but I think she hated it like everyone else who is not specifically me.

tagged as memories | permalink | 2 comments

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

The Shield, Season Three:
We waited too long to finish The Shield for free on Amazon Prime, but the good news is that you can now get the entire series on DVD for $25. The third season is a solid continuation of the Money Train storyline, other than the abrupt introduction of a new character that apparently came onto the scene during the gap between seasons, and then spends the whole season being annoying.

Final Grade: B

The Shield, Season Four:
The fourth season of The Shield continues to build organically upon the plot threads to date, and was entertaining throughout. Glenn Close had a great supporting role, but she was nowhere near as impressive as Forest Whitaker in Season Five.

Final Grade: B+

Hit the Floor by Breakestra:
This album feels like a revival of classic 70s funk with a clean and consistent polish. It might feel a little too sterile to some, but it's right up my alley. You Don't Need to Dance is one of the catchier tunes on the album.

Final Grade: A-

Rayman Legends: Original Game Soundtrack by Cristophe Heral:
The soundtrack from Rayman Origins remains one of my favourite game soundtracks, and I purchased this sequel soundtrack without ever having played the game it accompanies. In spite of a couple tracks that sound very derivative of John William's Harry Potter soundtrack, this is another successful mix. It features just the right balance of thematic reuse and organic development without falling into the Super Mario trap of sounding exactly like the previous iteration. This soundtrack makes me want to play the game, were it not for the fact that I'd also have to buy a Wii U and then wait ten minutes for it to boot up every time.

Final Grade: B+

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Stuff in My Drawers Day

This is an Art homework assignment I drew twenty-two years ago as a high school sophomore.

The assignment was to do an abstract sketch. I started by lightly tracing a single, pretentious line in curves and squiggles all over the page. I then shaded in each enclosed area in an unexpected direction and sealed in the pretentiousness with my standard signature in the lower right: my last name under a watermark that looks as if the corner of the page has rolled up.

This is what passed for A work in high school art class. Today, I would have given myself a B, but then I noticed that there's an abstract badger sitting Indian-style in the middle right area of the page, so that bumps it up to a B+.

What do you see in the squiggles?

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Weekend Wrap-up

Our holiday weekend opened with a Friday night trip to Old Ox Brewery with Marc, where we sat near a silent, solo bicycler with serial killer eyes who would occasionally rotate his line of sight to glare at us like an animatronic puppet. We also ate sandwiches from Pittsburgh Rick's food truck, but they weren't as good this time around since they were out of many ingredients (based on their poor decision to reserve large batches for a Jiffy Lube Live concert the following night).

On Saturday, we maximized the value of our Harpers Ferry annual pass by taking one final trip before it expired. We hiked 7 miles on the Maryland Heights side in the morning, and then Rebecca hiked an additional 5 miles on the Loudoun Heights side while I sat in the pub with a Mountain State amber ale and a Kindle book.

We ate dinner at DISH, as usual, where we had the clams casino, cod, and the pork chop. Clam-based appetizers are generally forgettable -- they should really rebrand all "clam with X" meals as "X with clams", since there's not much you can do with clams other than to cover it up with something more delicious like chowder.

On Sunday, Rebecca hiked another 12 miles along the AT, in the section where the altitude varies like a sine wave, while I returned home to feed hungry cats and play Skyrim. In the evening, we watched the lengthy movie, Boyhood, and ate leftover pork chops.

On Memorial Day (or "Monday" as people who don't get the day off like to call it), I worked from home on AWS training preparation and proposal writing while Rebecca went off to work with old people, who also don't get the day off.

How was your long weekend?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Memory Day: Twenty Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago today, on May 27, 1995, I was at a regatta somewhere in New Jersey for the National Championships. A high school junior at the time, I was the coxswain for the TC Williams Lightweight 8, which meant that I was responsible for herding 8 cats crippled by various eating disorders due to the rules surrounding maximum and average rower weights.

We had come in 3rd out of 4th in the qualifying heats the day before, which meant that we actually had race in the final round instead of sleeping the day away on the bus enjoying the time away from school. So, our day began with a bus to the weigh station at 5:30 AM, where our stroke failed the weigh-in by being HUGELY FAT (he was 146 pounds and the limit was 145). After a few circuits around the local park, he waded through the sea of worried lightweight girls spitting in cups to try again, and successfully passed this time.

We celebrated with breakfast at McDonald's.

Our final race kicked off at 12:40 in the afternoon, with Canisius, Woodbridge, Bonner, LaSalle, St. Joe's Prep, and TC in lanes 1 through 6 respectively. We came in fifth place, which was highly surprising given that our "cox box" stopped recording boat stats early on in the race. This was a crazy expensive piece of electronics that measured stroke rate and pressure, distance, and water temperature, and probably had a sonar add-on to measure water depth. When LCD display quietly flickered out 50 meters into the race, I did the only thing I could think of in a bind -- I simply made up my own numbers and speeds until the race was over five minutes later. I was converting meters and feet like a river-buoyant wizard, and it must have been close to accurate because none of the rowers noticed anything amiss after the fact.

At least by this point in my career, I was able to steer our boat (the Winifrede Beal Ottinger, colloquially known as the "Fred-e") in a straight line. Bonner was not so lucky, as their coxswain steered them into Woodbridge's lane, forcing Woodbridge to steer into Canisius' lane. After the race, Canisius protested Woodbridge and Woodbridge daisy-chained a protest over to Bonner. Owing to nepotism and intrigue (the judges were from Bonner's hometown of Philadelphia), Bonner's crooked course was deemed "not an issue" and Woodbridge was promptly disqualified from the race. This shuffled us up to fourth place while also having the side effect of allowing the 3 prep schools to walk away with the medals while the public school kids ended up with ribbons.

We spent the remainder of the day happy with our 4th place Nationals finish -- a direct antonym to the lightweight girls who also got fourth place but were incredibly pissed about it. I think we were just happy to be there, while they had just eliminated themselves from racing in Canada the following week.

Granted, they were probably a little bit hangry.

tagged as memories | permalink | 0 comments

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Boyhood (R):
Built around the conceit of filming the same actors over a span of 12 years, this movie ends up being more of a series of moments than a strong narrative. The dialogue of the children bounces erratically between realistic-sounding and outtakes from Degrassi Junior High, but in general, this is a pleasant journey with minimal resolution.

Final Grade: B

Game of Thrones, Season Four:
The writers of this show must have heeded my advice to calm the eff down, as they don't try to cram every single story into every single episode in this season. Episodes focus on a few characters at a time, allowing the plot to breathe a little more. There's still plenty of storylines that we don't care about -- anything involving Red Vagina on the Island of Who Cares, or Hodor's inability to give Bran a haircut -- but this season was a definite improvement over the second and third.

Final Grade: B+

The Shield, Season Five:
This is a tightly-wound season that starts weaving together the varied plots of previous seasons. It's elevated by the performance of Forest Whitaker as the erratic, crazy-eyed IAD detective, and kept me binging through the season finale.

Final Grade: A-

The Shield, Season Six:
A slight letdown after the fifth season, this one had the handicap of also being the penultimate season, meaning that too much time was spent setting things up. This reduced the cohesiveness of the story within the season, although it did a nice job of foreshadowing what's to come.

Final Grade: B-

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Friday, May 29, 2015

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2015 album. Have you noticed that my images are much bigger than they used to be? Storage is cheap in the cloud! THIS IS THE FUTURE.

  • Events
    • Had the first barbeque of the year on 5/2, where Evil Mike smashed a child's pinata.

    • Hiked the White Oak Canyon - Cedar Run circuit with Returned Mike and Annie, and stayed once again at Hopkins Ordinary B&B on 5/9.

    • Met Kathy for adult drinks on 5/21.

    • Went to Old Ox Brewery on 5/22 and saw a serial killer.

    • Hiked at Harper's Ferry and ate local farm foods at DISH on 5/23.

    • Planning to see my sister and her kids, in town from Rhode Island, tomorrow, on 5/30.

  • Projects
    • Inspired, developed, and taught an after-work curriculum designed to get engineers two separate Amazon Web Services certifications throughout the month.

    • Finished a proposal about time series algorithms that I partly understood, and started yet another proposal about clouds that won't be done for the next month or so.

    • Got HOA approval to replace the decaying shed in my backyard, and began researching options for a screen porch on our deck.

  • Consumerism
    • Enjoyed watching seasons of Scrotal Recall, The Shield, and Game of Thrones.

    • Started playing Pillars of Eternity, but it just made me want to play Skyrim instead. Also bought Witcher 3, but I realize its potential to become addicting and have delayed diving in until I have more time to spare.

    • Enjoyed new music by Breakestra, and looking forward to multiple new albums coming out in June.

May's Final Grade: B+, a healthy mix of work, play, and extracurriculars with decent weather, decent cats, and a decent wife.

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 0 comments


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